Posted on March 23, 2011
by Batya Franklin
In this week’s parsha, Balak, the Moabite king named Balak sends Bil’am to curse B’nei Yisrael because Moav was afraid of the Israelites’ strength. Before Bil’am can leave for his mission, Hashem speaks to him telling him not to go to curse B’nei Yisrael, for they are blessed. After declining Balak’s mission for him, Bil’am is approached yet another time by Balak’s messengers. This time Hashem tells Bil’am that if the messengers have invited him to go, he may do so, on the condition that he do anything Hashem tells him to. Bil’am takes his donkey and begins his journey toward the Israelite camp. On his way, Bil’am tries to curse B’nei Yisrael, but three different times his donkey prevents him from doing so. The Torah tells us that Bil’am’s donkey could see the mal’ach Hashem, the angel of God, that had been sent before them. After preventing Bil’am from cursing B’nei Yisrael these three times, the donkey speaks to Bil’am asking why he keeps beating her each time she prevents him from speaking. Immediately afterwards, Hashem shows Bil’am the/ mal’ach that he had not been able to see until then.
Bil’am ultimately gives three long blessings about B’nei Yisrael, including the familiar, mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael! This week, as you read this d’var Torah, I am celebrating Shabbat in Krakow, Poland on Ramah Seminar. Interestingly, this week’s parsha is quite fitting for my Poland experience. Just as Bil’am tried to curse B’nei Yisrael in the Torah, the Nazis cursed the Jews of Europe. The difference, of course, is that the Nazis succeeded and managed to kill six million innocent Jews. As we approach Shiv’a Asar B’tamuz, the 17th of Tamuz, and later Tish’a B’av, the 9th of Av, we think about the two destructions of the Beit Hamikdash in ancient times. As we all know, throughout our history as a Jewish people, countless other nations have threatened our existence. However, as members of USY, each one of us is living proof that Am Yisrael Chai, the People of Israel, are alive. We have overcome innumerable challenges over the past 3,000 years, and we must continue to live as Jews, proud of our heritage, and passionate about keeping it alive for another 3,000 years. USY, I wish us all a Shabbat filled with pride in our Jewish identities and love for our traditions!